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Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Fish, Halt Water Diversions

by Associated Press
The Idaho Statesman, February 18, 2001

Two environmental groups have filed a preliminary injunction in federal court to bar irrigation diversions at a central Idaho ranch, claiming its water practices are killing threatened bull trout.

Idaho Watersheds Project and Committee for Idaho's High Desert filed the motion Friday, naming Pahsimeroi Valley rancher Judd Whitworth. They contend Whitworth operates a diversion on Mahogany Creek that kills fish by emptying the stream of water and having no fish screen on the channel.

The court filings include photographs showing water running into a road from a ditch operated by Whitworth, while the streambed is completely dry, the groups said.

"Bull trout and other fish are killed every year across central Idaho by irrigation diversions that are not screened and dry up streams and rivers. That violates the Endangered Species Act, and cannot continue if we are going to save these fish," said Pam Marcum, High Desert chairwoman.

In December, the two groups sued ranchers and the U.S. Forest Service, charging violations of the Endangered Species Act regarding salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

They contend the irrigation practices trap fish in ditches, block migration and de-water some streams.

The two groups said they sent out more than 50 notices of intent to sue to irrigators, the Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Department of Lands in October. They contend the federal act prohibits the "take" of protected species, which includes killing or harming them by modifying their habitat.

Land and Water Fund of the Rockies attorney Laird Lucas, representing the two groups, said the October notices were a "warning shot" that prompted many of the local ranchers, including some in the Stanley Basin, to look for ways to protect the fish.

Lucas also suggested the Legislature explore ways the stockmen can buy or sell water to ensure there is enough in the creeks for the fish.

Associated Press
Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Fish, Halt Water Diversions
The Idaho Statesman, February 18, 2001

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